Pageviews past week

Monday, May 23, 2016

That One Day China and I Had a Falling Out

In perfect keeping with the past 30 hours or so of my life, the blogpost that I wrote (and it was GOOD...sob) vanished into thin air--"like the poems I never wrote and the boys I never kissed".  I will NOT let the cosmos have the last word on this matter!  Let me re-begin this saga by saying that I try and go with the flow of things.  I'm a firm believer in putting out what you want to get back and vice versa.   So you can imagine my chagrin yesterday in Xi'an when I was caught sharp in the wake of an undeclared war against me by China!!  I was unarmed and blissfully unaware that China was even annoyed with me. Let me back up.  I had decided to take a solo travel voyage to sew doll clothes with my friend Diane in Xi'an.  It was a straight forward five hour bullet train trip which went swimmingly until I turned east to return to Beijing.  After being shooed to four different windows (and standing in four lines) when I attempted to buy a return ticket using the temporary passport document we've used ALL over China (sometimes China seizes our passports to update work visas), the last guy passed me a scribbled note with instructions in Chinese for a taxi or bus route to a police station for more documentation--essentially telling me my existing documentation was not cutting it!!!  What the???  I've flashed the exact same paper in numerous airports and train stations all over the country.  Why this one NOT, why NOW??  In a panic I called home.  Jerry passed the phone to Lee who speaks Chinese.  He made no headway, nor did the Chinese desk clerks at our building.  Then Jerry called an embassy friend from church.  I'm still contemplating his response--"Plant yourself and cause a scene."  My "scene" was apparently unmoving as well even though I emotionally repeated in my best Chinese, "English teacher!  Peking University!!" as I wrung my hands and threw myself into it!  And oddly enough none of my Xi'an hosts answered their phones either.  I was at my wit's end. 
At this point my reason kicked in, and I determined that perhaps I ought to surrender myself to the police.  After ten taxis either refused to stop for me or drove away when I handed them the address, a villain entered my life.


This is a tuk tuk.  They have three wheels and no meter, so you have to negotiate prices before the ride. They fancy themselves part car, part bike, part superhuman.  They are semi-illegal, but I was desperate.  This guy must have been watching my futile attempts to get a ride and then zoomed up behind me on the sidewalk for the kill.  We negotiated a bit, and then I squeezed in with another gal that we let off at a hospital.  He and I continued to zip up alleys, around corners, getting air here and there.  At least we were moving quickly.  Then he ground to a halt in front of a hostel.  I knew that wasn't it, but I got out and limped in retelling my tale of tuk tuk woe.  The hostel dudes sympathized, warned me never to do THAT again and gave me real directions to my destination.  I mentally thought the tuk tuk driver into a cornfield!  Ten blocks walking and 12 stops on a cramped bus later I arrived at the police station.  Then it was up 18 floors to what appeared to be complete desertion except for a bed and a TV!  Are you SERIOUS?????????  Fortunately, some angel policewomen appeared.  After an hour of interrogation, they summoned an uber car for me and even paid the fair just because I was having such a lousy day in their fair city!  Bless them.
This time around I shoved my passport paper in AND a phone number the police had given me.  Unreal?????????  All that for a phone number???  But it worked.  Only now, five hours had passed, and no tickets were available, so that is why I ended up


on this 


for 12 hours...
Highlights included (but were not limited to) the following:

  • Cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap--If you get a buzz from a bargain, this trip is for YOU!
  • Extra passengers!  
If you missed getting a ticket with a seat, heck!  Get on anyway!  Extras in the aisle, perching on sinks, sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags.
  • Smoking anywhere anytime

  • Boiling water for Ramen noodles.  I must have seen 75 bowls of noodles exit from the bathroom.

  • Benches with no padding whatsoever, fabric stapled to boards--think play props.  And no distinction between seats--just a bench for three.

  • Three hours of nonstop sunflower cracking by the couple across from me.  In their defense they smiled at me which I appreciated.  The crowd generally bore little resemblance to happy travelers...

  • A sick traveler throwing up in a trash can.  I fortunately KEPT my cookies when that happened, and for that I am extremely grateful.

  • A train attendant who punctuated each stop with a foghorn level announcement.  Inhumanly loud--very practiced. Prevented any and all sound sleep.

  • Perfectly performing air conditioning--set at 60 degrees.

  • Robust (loud enough to hear five cars away) expectorating in the same sink where you could wash your hands--or perch if you didn't have a seat.

  • Note to my loyal followers who will understand why I include this:  Periodically, an attendant took a small broom and dustpan and whisked his way down the aisle.  I tell ya...
The twelve hours did pass.  I alternately nodded off a few times, tried to find something on my Kindle, stood by the bathroom where at least I wasn't shivering, nibbled at my Oreos (a nice supplement to the toast I'd had that morning), sipped my water, and contemplated my lowly place in the universe.  Eventually, the sun rose and the outline of Beijing appeared to the east.  The train stopped, and my new friend Qi (we passed four of the twelve hours in perfectly congenial conversation) and I lumbered off the train toward our subways--me to line 4 and she to line 1 and her job at the hospital as a...wait for it...neurologist.  Yes, Qi studied neurology at UPenn for five years, a bit of a stroke expert actually.  Only in China could one chance to meet a brain doctor on a cattle train.  If you're keeping score and thinking China is one up on me, think again.  Qi and I have a date for the National Library and may very well have used our train encounter to launch a friendship.  And so it goes... 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Necropolis--Italy Flashback


Every good student of Latin roots knows that "necro" means dead, and "polis" means city.  I made sure my 7th graders knew that!
The well-heeled of Milano collaborated to produce a truly magnificent necropolis.  My traveling companions were not of the same "Let's pitch tents and camp here for a few nights!" mind that I was, but they did give me 40 minutes.  To each his own...


On a brisk January day, we had the place to ourselves--that is if you don't count the thousands of lingering ghosts...


Think opulence.  Think loved ones left behind grieving.  "Oh, if only we could erect a 4 million lire monument to Cousin Guido!  Perhaps we would assure his place in the eternities!  At least it will make US look better, right?"


So the family meets with a sculptor.  They discuss the many merits of Cousin Guido.  Certainly he deserves the best.  An idea sprouts in the sculptor's head as he simultaneously measures, tabulates and quietly ka chings...



Lest my cynicism overtake my artistic self, I hasten to add that I was enraptured by the sculptures.  Enraptured.  They were so touching.




Angels dominated,


 but occasionally a surviving loved one and the sculptor were spot on.


From modern/funky


to poignantly moving


to pensively fierce and captivating, they spoke to me, one and all.


"My name is Carlotta Rosina Bertotti.  My husband Rotelli and I met on a park bench after Mass one spring day.  He moved me into the house of his mother, and she taught me to make perfect ravioli.  Eventually Rotelli and I moved out, but we continued to grow the family bakery into a substantial fortune and brought seven children into that home--all raised on that ravioli.  I was so so tired.  Now I am lying here resting.  Rotelli is at my feet."


"I am Maria. I was a child bride actually--my married life began at 16. The years before that event are so vague and fading.  Was I ever a  child? Now I lie here remembering--the children, the sickness, the hours spent praying in church.  What did  it really mean after all?"



"When you walk by me, what do you see?  A woman?  A daughter?  A friend?  I never knew the love or touch of a man.  I married Christ as a young girl of eighteen.  My life as a nun took me to India and China and back to Italy.  When I chose to leave the order, the scandal was almost unbearable.  The monument you see before you is the result of my father who, as a last act of compassion, forgave me as I lay on my deathbed, dying of the fever."


"You look upon me, visitor, with perhaps pity.  You are alive, and you contemplate me here--a permanent resident of this city of the dead.  I too walked in your shoes, and you as well shall one day gaze out from the inside of a tomb."


I enjoyed my solitary saunter through this park.


It was a pleasant continuation from our morning at the Last Supper.



Forty minutes just whetted my appetite.


I could have used another hour


or two


or


five.




Thursday, April 21, 2016

"In Spring Time--the Only Ring-a-Ding Time..."


I grabbed my camera and hopped on my bike to head on over to campus to catch the morning light this morning.  Most days I'm crashing to get to early classes, but Thursdays are a little more lazy.



Peking University (a.k.a. PKU, Beijing University and Beida--Bay-DAH) was part of the Old Summer Palace grounds before it became a university in 1898.  My students tell me that it has varieties of plant life that are unique in all of China!  


Yesterday a student gave a delightful presentation on several varieties of edible spring plants that can be picked here--if you know what you're doing!



My bike path led around this beautiful lake



and in front of this traditional building.  I am hopeful that you're feeling this!!!!



 Random student faces.  If I've learned anything living in China, I've learned that there is NO such thing as an anonymous face--they ALL have incredible amazing stories behind them.



A rare ONE bicycle sighting.  Bikes here come in throngs of hundreds and thousands mixed in with pedestrians, lunatic delivery carts, flat-bed go-karts, cars, taxis, vendors, e-bikes, dogs and cats, baby strollers--


As an extra photographic treat, today the university is hosting some sort of high school event.  These girls told me they're 15!  As I walked away from them, they erupted in voracious giggles.


 I sneaked up on this guy.  A female joined him, I probably upset their nesting, and


they both swam away.



Day shift.







I like this lassie's lavender ribbons.




My outing was capstoned by coming upon a small gathering of mothers and grandmothers enjoying a cracker break in the park with their little people. 






 This diminuative guy had the traditional "vented" pants through which he was peeing  on the grass when I approached the group.  They generously let me photograph the babies, and then (inevitably this always happens) they all wanted to jump into pictures with me in them (because I'm so freakishly NON Chinese).  Great fun.  I held the babies and tickled them. The babies obliged by cooperating.  Grandmothers leaping in and out of the pictures.  Excited Chinese chatter.  Me using my sub pre-school Chinese skills. Of course, when I handed one of them MY camera, the battery died.  I shall return!

Favorite books

  • Me 'n Steve
  • Thundering Sneakers
  • James Herriott's vet books
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • Travels with Charley
  • A Walk in the Woods
  • Peace Like a River
  • The Egg and I
  • Mary Poppins
  • Extremly Loud Incredibly Close
  • How Green Was my Valley